$25 Grocery Challenge–Parting thoughts

By Ed Nicholson

Yesterday was the final day of a week of living on a food budget of $25 a week (what food stamp recipients receive) as part of the United Way of Northwest Arkansas/ Northwest  Arkansas Food Bank $25 Grocery Challenge.  I posted my menu and food costs here, for anyone interested. 

I wrapped up my seven days of the food stamp budget diet last night. A few parting thoughts:

In a real-world sense, it’s not particularly difficult to do this for a week. But that’s like running 100 yards and saying, "Running a marathon wouldn’t be so hard." Living it would take its toll.

I had distinct advantages that made it easier for me. 
I had some basic cooking skills (and some good recipes) passed to me by parents who grew up in the Depression and always had a garden. My wife, Ginger, also a great cook, went along with me. We have a kitchen (an alarming number of low income families don’t).
I can shop. I know the store with the cheapest groceries in town, and I have the transportation to get there.
I really wanted to do this. I thought a lot about how to make it work. I knew it was going to end in a week. And I’m looking forward to a big dinner with a glass of wine tonight.

I mentioned the high price of good nutrition in an earlier post.  Lisa Goddard from the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas posted an excellent article on their blog yesterday with an item-by-item shopping list comparison showing how people on a budget are constrained to less-healthful choices.  It’s easy for us to be food elitists.  While local, fresh and organic are nice ideals for those of us who can afford them, they’re simply not options–at least at this point–for people living with food insecurity.  Consider this if you’re prone to pontificate on  food choices. 

I’m reminded by this experiment that I eat and drink too much.  Too much sugar. Too much fat. Too many beers.  I feel better after a week, and have lost three pounds. I’m thinking of repeating the experiment on occasion, just to recalibrate my consumption habits.   But I have no doubt that after more than a week, it wouldn’t be long before I started seeing negative effects from the limited food choices available.

Food plays such an amazing role in our lives. It’s a big part of how we celebrate. How we grieve. How we court and bond. It’s at the heart of so many relationships, beginning with our sitting at the family table.  If food were confined merely to the role of sustanence, our lives would be so less rich.

Still with me?.  If so, I urge you to consider getting involved in the fight against hunger.  In the richest country in the world, even in these uncertain economic times, there’s no excuse for anyone going hungry. 

How to get  inovolved:
Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
Feeding America (formerly named America’s Second Harvest).
Share Our Strength–National organization with a focus on ending childhood hunger

$25 Grocery Challenge–The Magic of Beans



photo by Tortoro! Creative Commons 

By Ed Nicholson

I’m currently in day six of the United  Way of Northwest  Arkansas/ Northwest Arkansas Food Bank $25 Grocery Challenge, in which participants are living on a food budget of $25 per person a week (what food stamp recipients receive).  

My Dad’s a pretty good cook. Because Mom worked her tail off at a job that kept her away from home on occassion, kitchen duties fell to him frequently, and he didn’t shirk them.  Pinto beans and cornbread were one of his go-to meals.  He didn’t use a recipe for either; just started throwing things in the pot and pans. It always ended up good.

In another lifetime, when I was a less-than-prosperous musician, being friends with dried legumes served me well. 

So Sunday night, on the second day of this experiment, we had beans and cornbread at our house.  I had leftovers last night.  We also made some bean dip (beans, cumin, a little Rotel and vinegar, all smashed together).  And we still have some left.  At $3.00 for the pot of beans and $1.50 for a cornbread made with real butter and buttermilk, that’s pretty good value.

Here’s how I do beans:
Soak 2 lbs. of pintos overnight.  Drain & rinse.  Add water, a big onion chopped, 4 cloves of chopped garlic, salt & pepper.  We always add some pork (ham, salt pork, bacon, etc.–here I had about 6 oz. of leftover pulled pork from a shoulder I’d smoked the week before).  Additional seasoning to taste. I add hot sauce. Liquid smoke is good. Cover & cook low and slow all day. 

It’s no wonder that beans are a staple the world ’round. They’re rich in protein and a great source of dietary fiber, to offset all the carbs and starch you’re going to get with the rest of this diet.

By the way, at 87, Dad doesn’t cook much any more.  But he can still throw down on a great pot of beans.  Thanks, Dad.

$25 Grocery Challenge–Day 4–the challenges of eating nutritiously



By Ed Nicholson

Today is the fourth day of my week of living on a food stamp food budget in the United Way of NW AR/ NW AR Food Bank $25 Grocery Challenge

In response to yesterday’s post about the challenges of eating nutritiously on a budget, our friend Jeff Wiedner from Share Our Strength reminded us that David Davenport* recently posted a link to a New York Times story (see how social media works) about how much more expensive it is to eat healthful, nutritious food than higher calorie foods with fewer nutrients. 

Ever hear anyone say, "How can he be hungry? He’s forty pounds overweight.  He could drop a few."  

I know how.

Yesterday’s main course at lunch, after my apple, was Ramen noodles (something I never ate much in my days as a low-income, semi-working musician).  At 18 cents a large serving, it’s probably one of the cheapest ways to fill up. But it’s crammed with sodium and calories. 

As of yesterday morning, I’d lost two pounds from the first two days of the experiment.  This morning when I weighed, I’d gained a pound and a half back.

It’s ironic that food insecurity and obesity often cohabitate.  But given the economic food choices, it’s not surprising. 


* Big hat tip to David Davenport, CEO of the phenomenally progressive Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.  David  lived on this  food budget for a month. Talk about a guy who puts his money where his mouth is!

The Hunger/Food Stamp/$25 Grocery Challenge

By Ed Nicholson

I’m trying something this week.

For the past couple of years, in working with hunger relief organizations around the country, I’ve become aware of an interesting experiment, conducted to make its participants realize how difficult it might be to live full-time on the what the typical food stamp recipient gets–$21-25 a week.

As far as I know, the experiment began as the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, issued by hunger relief organizations to members of Congress as they were considering the nutrition title of the most recent version of the Farm Bill.  Some of the members particpated and posted their observations.

David Davenport, CEO of Austin’s Capital Area Food Bank, did it for a month (hat tip, David!)

Six inspiring food bloggers from the Bay Area did it in September of ’08, and worked collectively on a blog that has perhaps the best collection of advice, information and recipes for anyone trying this.

This week, I agreed to participate, along with several others from our community in the $25 Grocery Challenge, being issued by United Way of Northwest Arkansas, and the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank (Feeding America member). 

I’ll be posting my observations here, as well as cross-posting, along with other participants, to the Live United blog.

Should be interesting. 

Have you done this?  We’d love to hear your observations in the comments.